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Senior Citizen Kane Club: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Marielle Heller

Based on her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the strange-but-true story of Lee Israel, a mastermind of literary forgeries. In the hands of director Marielle Heller (The Diary of A Teenage Girl) this affecting tale is less about how the writer got away with such deceptions, as it is about her motivation to do so. With a deeply affecting performance by Melissa McCarthy in the lead role and scene-stealing turn by Richard E. Grant as her accomplice, there’s well deserved Oscar buzz already circulating around this movie.

"The strange-but-true story of Lee Israel, a mastermind of literary forgeries."

Once a best-selling author, by the early 1990s Lee Israel has been consigned to the bargain bin. Disregarded by peers, socially awkward and frankly, bitter, her life has become an isolated one, with only an elderly cat and old pal, alcoholic bon vivant Jack Hock (Grant), for company. With her latest book, a biography of Estée Lauder selling poorly, Israel is in dire financial straits. On a whim she decides to start penning counterfeit letters from renowned writers such as Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker, selling them to unsuspecting collectors. Mimicking the writing styles of her favourite authors, she soon discovers a talent for writing in the voice of dead literary giants, pawning them off to bookstores and memorabilia shops as genuine artefacts that her “cousin” found in his house. But as her web of deception grows and the demand for the documents snowballs, she has to go to greater and greater lengths to both produce material and conceal her crime.

McCarthy is terrific, clearly relishing the opportunity to play this complex character. More than a simple character study, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is also a fascinating portrait of the ruthless nature of the publishing world. The result being, even though you know what Israel has done is unethical and illegal, forgiveness comes easily.